Bello Mondo, in the Pooks Hill Marriott, is beautiful and serves expensive Italian food. The offerings are generally good, although whether it's worth the price depends somewhat on how much you value a restaurant's ambiance -- especially considering the other, less expensive Italian places in Bethesda. In its quiet way, this is one of the most handsome restaurants in the area.

In the main dining room, softly lit with chandeliers and candles, a fountain plays gently, ringed by fresh flowers. The trill of the water is a natural tranquilizer and can best be enjoyed at one of the tables close by.

An adjoining room, called the library, is about the size of a home dining room, with six small tables that can be consolidated to accommodate a larger party. If you're looking for intimacy and quiet, this little nook is just the ticket.

The menu at Bello Mondo is relatively simple and straightforward, with the usual Italian hot and cold appetizers, half a dozen pastas, several veal and chicken dishes, a couple of shellfish dishes and a fresh fish of the day. The shining lights here tend to be the seafoods and the tomato-based sauces.

With that as your guide, consider the clams and mussels in marinara sauce as an appetizer, or the shrimp, plump and sweet, in a simple sauce of butter, lemon and just a touch of garlic.

Or share a pasta dish as an appetizer. The rigatoni carbonara is properly eggy, and its smoked bacon flavor doesn't overpower. Fettuccine Alfredo is good, too: light and easy on the nutmeg. The only appetizer to steer clear of, and the only really poor dish we've had at Bello Mondo, is the dreary fried mozzarella, which is thickly breaded, over-oily, and as heavy as lead.

The fresh fish has been flawless lately. On a recent visit we had a thick slab of poached salmon, delicate and moist, in a simple butter-lemon sauce. Shrimp has been top-notch, too; you won't go wrong with the ones in tomato sauce. But the top seafood dish here is the scallops, served in a marinara sauce that's Bello Mondo's crowning jewel, chunky, peppery, fruity, with good olive oil, herbs, and what tastes like a hint of nutmeg.

There's another excellent tomato sauce with the chicken cacciatora, with olives, bell pepper, mushrooms and lots of garlic. But we found the chicken a bit dry and lacking in flavor. The veal marsala, however, has pale, tender, delicate meat of the highest quality with a thick, bland sauce of not much character.

Vegetable side orders are generally very good. But the house salad is limp and uninteresting. Have the excellent spinach salad instead.

The desserts, except for the good cannoli, look better than they taste.